09/21/2005, 00.00
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Chinese security forces spirit away monk

Since August Human Rights Watch has denounced the disappearance of Sonam, a Potala Palace monk. Whilst lavish celebrations were underway to mark the 40 years of the Tibet Autonomous Region, individual Tibetans and entire Tibetan families were abducted and sent to the countryside on mere suspicions.

Lhasa (AsiaNews /Agencies) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that on August 21 Chinese security forces took away  Sonam, a monk from Lhasa's Potala Palace in what it said was a politically motivated detention.

The monk was quietly spirited away in an unmarked vehicle after being lured to a rear-vehicle entrance of the palace.

According to HRW, the police often use unofficial vehicles to carry out low-key detentions. No one has seen Sonam since the incident.  
"It's outrageous that Chinese security forces simply spirit people away for what they suspect are unacceptable political opinions," said Brad Adams, HRW Asia director. "To haul someone in for what they might be thinking or have casually expressed makes China's promises to uphold human rights standards empty words at best."

"Given the poor treatment often meted out to Tibetans in detention, we are very concerned about Sonam's physical condition," Adams added. "The Chinese government needs to make a public statement about his whereabouts and allow an independent lawyer or family member to visit him immediately."  
HRW also reported that two other Potala monks were detained at about the same time as Sonam, but the information has not been confirmed.  
Sonam, now in his early 40s, was one of the first monks allowed to enrol at the Potala Palace— which became the winter home of the Dalai Lama in 1648— following its reopening several years after the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

He worked as a caretaker monk at the Maitreya temple within the Palace. He was also appointed as a delegate on an official trip to Nepal in the mid-1990s, an indication of official trust in his loyalty.  

According to HRW, the episode must be connected to the 40th anniversary celebrations of the Tibet Autonomous Region. To avoid potential troubles, the authorities have carried out pre-emptive detentions. This was the case of Sonam Gyalpo, a tailor who was detained by state security on August 25.

Other confirmed cases of pre-emptive action in connection with the 40th anniversary celebrations include Tibetans caught after returning from unauthorized trips to India—in some cases, even if the trip was done years earlier. Chinese officials want to prevent Tibetans from visiting the Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama's place of residence in India.  

Many Lhasa residents were banished from the capital and sent to rural villages and made to check in daily at local police stations until the heightened security period ended on September 10.

On September 9 during his recent trip to Canada, Chinese President Hu Jintao reasserted China's claim that Tibet was an "inalienable part of Chinese territory", and challenged the Dalai Lama to "renounce his Tibetan independence proposition".

Mr Hu was Communist Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region from December 1988 to March 1992, a period of massive demonstrations and martial law.

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